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JOHN DEMPSTER: How 'committed atheist' C.S. Lewis came to discover 'something more' that changed his life

By John Dempster

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CS Lewis, aged 48.
CS Lewis, aged 48.

A NEW movie, The Most Reluctant Convert, tells the story of the journey from atheism to Christian faith taken by one of the 20th century’s foremost Christian communicators.

C. S. Lewis was an Oxford academic, a specialist in medieval literature, author of the Narnia Chronicles and books defending Christian faith.

An elderly Lewis, looking back over his life, is played brilliantly in the film by Max McLean. The script is almost entirely drawn from the writer’s own work.

As a young man in the 1920s Lewis was a committed atheist. But a book he came across – Phantastes by George MacDonald – revealed something different, attractive, lovely – something he would learn to call “holy”.

His atheism was based on the ridiculousness as he saw it of imagining that a universe full of suffering and loss could be “the work of an omnipotent, benevolent God” – the evidence pointed in the other direction. No God, surely – only random, impersonal matter.

CS Lewis as a boy with his father in a scene from The Most Reluctant Convert.
CS Lewis as a boy with his father in a scene from The Most Reluctant Convert.

But Lewis’ Christian colleagues pointed out that if our minds are “merely chance arrangements of atoms in skulls” then all our thoughts are random, and we can place no confidence in them.

Over time, Lewis conceded that “there had to be something more, further up and further in”, and became a “reluctant convert” to the belief that there was Spirit as well as matter in the universe. But it was not personal, Lewis insisted.

Yet he kept hearing about Jesus. An atheist friend told him that “the evidence for the historicity of the gospels is surprisingly good”. Mythology, he continued, is full of tales of dying gods – which Lewis loved. “It looks as if it really happened once.”

Eventually C. S. Lewis acknowledged that it really happened once – that God was personal, and had come among us in Jesus.

Each of us journeys to God and Christ in our own unique way, and some public intellectuals today have made a similar journey to faith.

So let no one dismiss the Christian faith before examining it, following the questions, following the hunger for an elusive Joy which drew Lewis forward.

CS Lewis as a young man during WWI in a scene from The Most Reluctant Convert.
CS Lewis as a young man during WWI in a scene from The Most Reluctant Convert.

When he turned the pages of Phantastes he found hints of Joy there, summoning him into the light.

And as I watched the film, a gentleness and goodness in it touched me, a holiness, a whisper of hope from the Joy which will not let us go.

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